Best of Vermont 2019 | Jay Peak Pump HousePhoto Credit : Courtesy of Jay Peak
Planning a Vermont vacation, day trip, or getaway? From dining and lodging to attractions that are well worth the drive, here are nearly 30 editors’ picks for the best of Vermont.
Suzanne Slomin’s solar-powered bakery began years ago to supplement her farm business at Warren’s Kingsbury Market Garden. In 2014, she moved operations to a dirt-road homestead in Waitsfield. There, at the edge of the forest, in the shadow of Mount Alice, she and her tiny crew blend organic grains with salt, sourdough starter, water, and time. Her burnished, split-eared loaves come studded with olives and rosemary, Jack cheese and chives, cinnamon and raisins. For those living in the bakery’s Vermont delivery radius, the breads offer a regular taste of mountain living at its finest.
Richmond’s community bake shop isn’t big: just a coffee counter, a few pastry cases, and a handful of tables. Yet for many locals, breakfast means daily stops for baker Lisa Curtis’s ooey-gooey cinnamon buns, puffed up and warm from the oven. Lunchtime brings brisket or tempeh Reubens, chopped salads, and hearty soups. But don’t let those distract you from the cream puffs, shrouded in molten chocolate ganache, or palm-sized tarts of lemon curd topped with fresh fruit or meringue: Sweets are this shop’s reason for being. 802-336-2126
For years, Vermont Maple BBQ owners Pauline Poulin and David Langhans dished out their superlative sweetwood-smoked meats, pulled-pork quesadillas, and poutines from a trailer near I-89 in Randolph. Then, after locals begged them to open a restaurant, they moved into a village storefront in December 2015. Brisket, ribs, and down-home sides flew out the door in unprecedented amounts—that is, until a fire leveled the place four months later. With help from regulars, the duo recommissioned their little red trailer, which can be found parked close to their Route 12 home when the weather’s warm. 802-282-1012
When perusing brunch menus, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of French toast, home fries, and crab cake Benedicts. But Kismet chef Crystal Maderia stocks her larder with uncommon, usually organic produce from local farmers, many of whom grow special crops just for her. At brunch, that might manifest as smoked vegetable hash or a bubbling skillet of Portuguese baked eggs with garlicky tomato sofrito and handmade ricotta. 802-223-8646
At this 1938 Worcester Lunch Car diner, as at any good dinette, the servers are friendly and quick with a coffee top-off, but the low prices and starchy fare belie the fact that much of the food is local. The eggs come from the owner’s backyard flock; the chicken-fried cutlet on a blue plate special hails from a nearby farm. And the ice cream at the diner’s roadside summer stand? That’s handmade in-house, just like everything else. 802-254-8399
Along the Vermont–New Hampshire border, the Connecticut River is a ribbon of blue bordered by fertile bottomland farm fields. Over the years, the Upper Valley’s agricultural locus has evolved from sheep to dairy to organic vegetables. In Norwich, a bustling Saturday market showcases the area’s finest, freshest food, with displays from 50-plus vendors. Start your tour with buttery croissants from Umpelby’s Bakery & Café, then sample the farmhouse cheeses from Woodcock Farm. For dessert? Just-picked fruit from Four Corners Farm, which keeps the strawberries coming from June through October.
When chef Charlie Menard ditched his longtime gig at the upscale Inn at Round Barn Farm to open a creemee stand, he wasn’t looking to sling premade ice cream and frozen hot dogs. At Menard’s year-round snack bar, the handmade dairy confections range from basic flavors—chocolate, vanilla, maple, lemon—to exotic cones topped with extravagant clouds of maple cotton candy. Our pick? The chocolate-dipped banana-cream waffle cone sundae—with or without hunks of cocoa-covered bacon and banana chips. 802-496-6003
In 2018, Vermonters became privy to a fact that Bostonians have been in on for years: The Freddura family knows its fish. Paul Freddura’s original “calamari café,” the Daily Catch, opened in Boston’s North End in 1973; these days, it’s a line-out-the-door spot for things like superfresh crispy-fried squid and perfect linguine white-clam. Maria Freddura opened a village outpost in Woodstock last September, and already the kitchen hums like a well-oiled machine. The seafood—hand-picked and processed on Boston’s docks—is clean and fresh, the pastas al dente and riddled with garlic, and the service casual yet efficient as ever. 802-332-4005
In a historic mill above the Ottauquechee River Falls, one could spend hours watching Simon Pearce’s artisans shape, turn, and twist molten glass into tumblers, bowls, candlesticks, and pitchers. In the atelier’s polished upstairs dining room, that glassware goes to work, corralling wines from the restaurant’s inspiring 20-page list along with inventive cocktails. The artistry extends to the kitchen, where chefs plate approachable favorites—steak frites and pan-seared trout—and creative, occasion-worthy fare such as hay-roasted lamb shoulder with herbed tagliatelle, and glowing white halibut crusted in hazelnuts. 802-295-1470
In summer, a state park draws visitors to tiny Elmore, where the only place to eat is the general store—specifically, Fire Tower Pizza, tucked into the back of the retail space. Elmore Mountain Bread’s Blair Marvin supplies the pizzeria with tangy raw sourdough, and at the oven, chef Jimmy Kalp spins it into thin-crust pies topped with cured meats and fresh veggies from Jupiter Farm, right across the street. And while the pizza alone is well worth a visit, it’s even better when eaten on the back deck, with views of Lake Elmore and the ridgeline beyond. 802-888-2296
Towering pines punctuate the grounds at this welcoming inn, which dates back to a 1783 parsonage. Though fire razed that structure over a century ago, a wealthy New England businessman erected the current home, with its bay windows façade and many fireplaces, in 1910. It’s hard to imagine a morning meal more picturesque (and tasty) than just-flipped flapjacks drowning in maple syrup in this light-flooded dining room. 802-447-3500
Deep in the craggy Northeast Kingdom, scrub oak and native blueberry bushes hem in the edges of Brighton State Park’s Spectacle Pond. On the pond’s western shore, 54 tent sites, 23 lean-tos, and five rental cabins play host to overnight visitors. Seeking extra serenity or easy lakefront access? Hit the high-numbered sites in the park’s northern loop, where the peace and quiet are interrupted only by the loon’s trill. 802-723-4360
Marilou and Andrew Kozak take tiny-house living to new heights with their canopy-level cabins. Ascend a long staircase to experience life in the trees at the hillside abode in Waterford, or climb the yellow birch steps that spiral to a bedroom loft in the Coventry cabin on Walker Pond. Both feature decks with views and a cedar hot tub—cold Vermont beers, optional. 802-473-6303
This inn is known best for culinary offerings that include a white-tablecloth restaurant, cooking classes, and larders stocked from the on-site gardens. But history buffs staying in the 12 rooms will also note the original pine floors, burnished by 225 years of footsteps, and the sawyers’ marks on the beams overhead, cut in 1792. Modern updates—whirlpool tubs, luxe linens, flat-screen TVs—mean you can soak in the history without living like a colonist. 802-263-9217
This all-inclusive resort near the top of Lake Champlain offers water sports for bigger kids and adults, story time and age-appropriate play for toddlers, and everything needed to accommodate infants. And when you’re ready for a vacation from the kids? Book a staff sitter and mingle with other grownups on a relaxing champagne cruise. 802-868-4000
Just steps from the ski lifts, the Lodge at Spruce Peak sets a posh but down-to-earth standard for luxury lodgings. Rooms in the sprawling timber-frame structure complement creature comforts with hop-to-it service and homegrown touches … and if you’re lucky, someone might just slip you an invite to the supersecret subterranean Line House speakeasy for an evening of hobnobbing and custom cocktails. 802-282-4625
Old-school accommodations take on a polished sheen at Ludlow’s hip boutique motel. Wood-slab headboards lend rustic charm to standard queen rooms, while family accommodations include bunk beds for kiddos and suites that sleep up to seven. There’s no restaurant, but food trucks frequent the patio year-round, and weekend patio parties put a cool spin on the campfire jams of yore, with live music and seating around a masonry fire pit. 802-242-1608
Dog bowls on the front steps bid “Hallo” to four-legged visitors, who care less for the antique furnishings in the five well-appointed, country-chic rooms than they do for a romp on the inn’s expansive lawn. And on the off chance you don’t finish your supper of handmade jägerschnitzel or pasta Piemontese at chef Fritz Halbedl’s Austrian-inflected on-site restaurant, you won’t have to travel far with the doggy bag. 802-873-5071
Hotel Vermont guests could spend many happy, well-fed days while barely leaving their Cherry Street environs: On the hotel’s ground floor, Hen of the Wood offers some of the best food in town, and the hotel lobby provides a fine people-watching scene. Then again, all of the Queen City’s amenities are just steps away. So why not don your walking shoes to window-shop on Church Street, sip a beer on the patio at the Farmhouse Tap & Grill, or head to City Hall Park for the Saturday farmers’ market? 802-651-0080
In quiet, light-filled rooms where Rockefellers once walked, spa visitors disrobe for Swedish and Himalayan hot-stone massages, detoxify with espresso-laced volcanic mud treatments, and recalibrate their systems with Reiki and reflexology sessions. At the inn’s farm-to-table restaurant, they refuel with thoughtfully crafted meals. And when the day is done? Cedar-sauna steam baths, followed by a dip in the patio whirlpool. 888-338-2745
Few Vermont locales are more iconic (or more often photographed) than the Willoughby Gap. Though the glacier that cleaved the dueling facades of Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor has long melted away, fjordlike Lake Willoughby remains, with pristine water and stunning views. At the north end of the spring-fed lake is a natural quarter-mile beach, clean and sandy and made for high-summer sunbathing and shallow-water children’s play. The scenery’s all right, too.
In 2017, RateBeer named Burlington’s fun-loving Waterfront Park brewhouse one of the world’s 10 best new breweries. Inside the cavernous brick space—a former door factory built in 1853—brewers Todd Haire and Bobby Grimm craft small-batch beers using Champlain Valley grains malted at Bristol’s Peterson Quality Malt. Steps from the brew kettle, drinkers sip resinous IPAs, delicate saisons, and barrel-aged sours flavored with summer fruits and herbs, while tapping their toes to the live bands that play several nights a week. 802-399-2511
There are many ways to climb Vermont’s highest peak. For hikers who love life above the tree line, one of Mansfield’s lesser-traveled paths offers a straight shot to the ridge. From the trailhead on Stevensville Road in Underhill, Butler Lodge Trail warms up with a half mile through hardwoods before shooting steeply uphill. After 1.8 miles and 1,600 vertical feet, the trail arrives at its namesake structure. Pause for a snack, then enter the krummholz via the Wampahoofus Trail. From the Chin, ambitious hikers can tag Mansfield’s many summits via the Long Trail, or enjoy lunch on high before heading back down again.
Among the legislative achievements of U.S. Senator Justin Morrill (1810–1898) were establishing the Library of Congress and earmarking public lands for formal education. In Strafford, the statesman’s 1851 Gothic Revival home offers a window into life c. 1850. During hourly home tours, curator Emily Howe leads visitors through Morrill’s rooms, noting details: a nursery window to look in on a napping baby, the nation’s oldest intact wall-to-wall carpeting, hand-painted murals on window screens. As the tour goes on, it starts to feel personal—like a stroll down a great man’s memory lane. For the historically inclined, it’s a trip worth taking. 802-765-4288
No matter the weather outside, at Jay Peak’s 50,000-square-foot indoor water park it’s always a balmy 87 degrees. Serpentine water slides deliver revelers from a high catwalk to the pool, adrenaline junkies can catch a buzz in the Chute (a 20-second thrill-slide with a 360-degree turn), and little squirts find fun in the kid zone. 802-988-2710
Community activist Allen Johnson founded Frog Hollow as a shared artisan workspace and gallery in Middlebury in 1971. The organization added a Burlington gallery in 1991; since then, the latter has become a destination for handmade Vermont wares. A juried application process ensures that everything—from stoneware bowls to jewelry, furniture, and more—exemplify the finest craftsmanship the state has to offer. 802-863-6458
Local musicians strum ballads in the gloaming on midsummer nights, as pickers wander the long, high-bush rows, filling baskets with plump fruit. At the checkout stand, farmers Rachel and Ryan Gray are quick with a friendly dinner recommendation or scenic-route directions as foragers head homeward. 802-434-3887
From the side of Route 16, the Museum of Everyday Life looks like any other derelict old barn. But inside the homespun object-archive, “chief operating philosopher” Clare Dolan and her team of plebeian curators—many connected with Glover’s Bread & Puppet Theatre—build illuminating exhibitions around everything from dust to safety pins, matches, keys, and mirrors. The space is cluttered, as one might expect, and dust mite–phobes should probably beware. But where else could one go to learn, in vivid detail, the soup-to-nuts human history of, say, the toothbrush?
Walking into Rochester’s bookstore-café is like wandering into an old house, except that—as in a dream—the rooms are filled with books. There’s a little café off to the side, with fresh-baked scones and croissants and people at tables drinking espresso and talking about a hundred different things. But it’s not a dream. It’s real life, and—given owner Sandy Lincoln’s love of food and the written word—many of the books are sustenance-related. That means cookbooks, but also tomes on food politics, agriculture, and homesteading. Things don’t get much more Vermont-y than that. 802-767-4258